Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Peter Joseph On "Economic Calculation in a Natural Law"

Peter Joseph is a popular documentary maker with a strong online presence. He's mostly known for the Zeitgeist documentary in 2007 which went viral in the early days of YouTube. It featured a section on Jesus mythicism which wasn't well cited and many of its claims have since been for the most part debunked, but nonetheless became very influential and caught the attention of virtually the entire Christian community.

But this post is not about that. Peter Joseph's main focus is on creating a new cultural paradigm in terms of how we live, where we get our energy, what we do for a living, and the structure of our economy. He argues that we phase out our market based economy and replace it with a resource based economy. The current market based economy is unsustainable and is designed to fail. It is a train wreck waiting to happen. And educating the public on this while promoting his alternative, is his main agenda. Too often however, his criticism of Christianity is all people hear and some people just shut out all his ideas based on that.

Regardless of whether or not you're a believer, I think his ideas are worth listening to. They are concerned with the dangerous direction humanity is headed towards and how we need to change the current system for the better and achieve the energy and resource stability and abundance in order to avoid the cliff that we are headed towards. I'm not saying I agree with him on every point, or that I'm endorsing all his views, but we need to explore alternatives to the current paradigm, which is poisonous.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Religion-Table Analogy

Last month when I was visiting my family we got into a conversation about what gives our lives purpose. I mentioned to my mother and sister that helping rid the world of religion gives my life purpose, and my sister, who is not religious in a traditional sense but very spiritual, shot back and said that there is a lot of good in religion. I agreed with her that all religions have some good in them but that the metaphysical beliefs that justify the good things in religion, also justify the bad things in religion, and I came up with what I call the religion-table analogy to try and explain it a bit better.

It works like this. A table is held up by its legs. On the table you can have good things and bad things, like, say, healthy food, and poisonous food. That represents the good of religion and the bad. The legs represent the metaphysical beliefs of religion that support all of its claims. The same metaphysical arguments that liberal Christians like former president Jimmy Carter can use to justify the truth of his god, are also used by the members of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK, and many others, to justify their god and their bad theology. Moderate and liberal theism provides cover for conservative and fundamentalist theism. Instead of just criticizing the fundamentalists, I'm focusing on refuting the metaphysical claims of religion altogether because chopping off the legs of the table takes down everything having to do with the religion. Keeping the legs of the table intact will always allow for the extremist to metaphysically justify their claims. Furthermore, anything good from religion can be justified without it. No one needs to believe Jesus was divine in order to see that helping the poor is good. No one needs to believe Mohammad spoke to the angel Gabriel to see that there is something wrong with charging excessive interest. But many of the bad things that religions have can only be justified with religion. ISIS' despicable theology of rape for example, cannot be justified without a belief in god.

And that's why religion has to go—all of it. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a debate with a hardcore religious fundie and they've tried to trot out the cosmological argument, or the moral argument, in an attempt to justify and lend intellectual credit to their extremist and absurd ideas. Destroy the legs of the religion table, and you destroy all of religion. This is not to say that I believe religion should be refuted because it can do bad things. I primarily believe religion should be refuted because they're all false. But to be responsible, you cannot just stop there. Since religions provide for many comforts in the lives of people, like giving them a sense of meaning, purpose, morality, community, and so forth, religion needs to be replaced with secular alternatives. When this is done, there is little to no difference in the ethical behavior and well-being of an atheist over a theist. And the lives of hundreds of millions of atheists around the world can attest to that.

Monday, August 24, 2015


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Personal Being

I find it very odd, that the concept of god involves this totally non-physical abstract being that exists and that has a personality. It's personal. It has desires. It has goals. It wants certain things and doesn't want other things. In fact, it's so personal that we address it using a gender pronoun, like he, she, him, or her.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Thinker's Dilemma

I brand myself "The Thinker" as my moniker because I'm interested in many intellectual topics like science, philosophy, history, and religion. Being a person preoccupied with creating coherent metaphysical and ethical views has more and more recently created a bit of a dilemma for me. And that dilemma is over my consumption of meat.

I've been thoroughly omnivorous virtually my entire life. I did go vegetarian for 1 month about 10 years ago but I just couldn't keep it going. But recently, over the past few years, I had started becoming increasingly aware of the things that go on behind the production of the meat that I had been eating and enjoying. This awareness has forced me to seriously reconsider if I can go on justifying my consumption of meat, and to be quite honest, it is driving me a little crazy.

My ethical views, if taken to their logical conclusion, would force me to become at least a vegetarian. An organism's sentience—its capacity to suffer, is what my ethical views say denote a moral connotation with regards to its treatment. Animals like cows, pigs, chickens, deer, ducks, lambs, and many other commonly consumed species, all have to varying degrees, complex brain structures and nervous systems. They react to pain and stimuli just as any human being would. In short, they have all the hardware necessary to feel pain and be consciously aware of it. And if it is wrong to harm a human being because of its capacity to feel pain and to suffer, then it is also wrong to harm an animal because it too has the capacity to feel pain and to suffer.

This video highlights the issue pretty well:

This has lead me to a position where I am unable to justify my consumption of meat, especially given a system where I have no idea where my meat is coming from and in what conditions the animals were treated before they were killed for their meat. Every dollar I spend and every ounce of meat that I consume is contributing to and fostering the daily atrocities going on in modern factory farming, and I do not want to support such an industry. So I'm left with only one choice: I must make a lifestyle change.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

When I grow up I'm going to be:

I'm in the process of redoing my apartment and I have to throw away massive amounts of old stuff I no longer need. Up in one of the closets is a box with my baby book that my parents used to document my early childhood from birth to about 7. I hadn't seen it in years and was fascinated to see what was in it.

The book comes with questions to ask and things to document. I weighed 7 pounds and 8 ounces at birth and was 20 inches tall. I apparently had an ear infection when I was about 8 months old which required some prescription drugs. I started "cooing" at three weeks and my first word was "agu". Got my first tooth at 6 months, crawled at 5-6 months, and was walking by 12 months.

One section begins with "A word about me from Mom ..."

And my mother writes:

Michael was very alert and could see good from the start. He has a pleasant nature but wakes up too often at night....Michael is very smart and fun loving...Mikey is talking now and is super perceptive of peoples feelings. He actually comforts me when I feel bad - and tells me "don't worry" while hugging me and patting my back.....He says please, thank you and no thanks - he just heard them and picked them up.

At 4 I was sent to Evangel Christian School, which a Google search led me to find out still exists in its location in Astoria Queens. My mother writes:

He liked school but still complained about having to wake up and get ready....His
principle Mrs Deland said he was such a sweet, well behaved boy.

Still to this day I'm not a morning person. I'm actually naturally nocturnal. I'd be up all night if I had my way. Looks like it is genetic or innate to a certain degree. Later on in the book comes a section called "My favorite prayers." (I wonder if back in the 80s all baby books had such sections under the assumption almost all people believe in god.) And there was the prayer I was basically forced to repeat at Evangel Christian Academy before we ate lunch everyday:

Poetic Naturalism And The Argument From Our Understanding Of Physics

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll part-times as a debater and defender for the naturalistic worldview. In recent talks, he has emphasized a point that I think only a physicist could sincerely make that as far as I know hasn't really gotten much traction: The laws of physics that govern the way matter behaves at the level of our everyday experience are fully understood. And even though there are still things within the universe that we don't know about, like dark matter and dark energy, black holes, and the origin of the universe - when those mysteries are eventually revealed to us by science they will not fundamentally change the equations that describe the everyday world. So nothing like a soul or an afterlife that has any interaction with the human body or anything made of atoms can exist because any such metaphysical substance would either be too weak to interact with the atoms or they would have already been detected. Therefore, souls, ghosts, astrology, psychokinesis, the afterlife, and almost every concept of god, except perhaps deism is ruled out.

That equation by the way is:

Is this a good overall argument? Does Carroll have a good case to be made?

Those are the questions I want to raise.  I have a strong leaning towards yes, it is a good argument, but I want to examine some potential problems it might have or could have.  The most obvious problem the argument could have is what if Carroll's wrong? That's always a possibility. After all, his argument is not an argument that tries to prove anything logically true. It's an argument that is a posterori, not a priori. It all depends on whether the laws of physics at our everyday experience really are known in such a way that no further physics will ever change them of their ontological implications. What if that's just not the case?

Well, then there is an opening for a believer in the things the argument attempts to falsify. But even if there is an opening, it could still be the case that any future physics that does change the equation in any way won't do so in a way that will make it any more favorable to a theist or spiritualist. It might just be more of the same kind of physics that is more favorable to naturalism. But going back to the original point, the certitude regarding our knowledge of these laws described in the equation must be high, or, to use a technical term, pretty high. It's a matter of probability that only someone with a large body of knowledge in physics and with the history of science can properly assess, and so that of course disqualifies me. I can only refer to the experts to help inform my view of the matter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Quote Of The Day

From Louise Antony's NY Times Opinionator piece, Good Minus God:

Think now about our personal relations — how we love our parents, our children, our life partners, our friends. To say that the moral worth of these individuals depends on the existence of God is to say that these people are, in themselves, worth nothing — that the concern we feel for their well being has no more ethical significance than the concern some people feel for their boats or their cars. It is to say that the historical connections we value, the traits of character and personality that we love — all count for nothing in themselves. Other people warrant our concern only because they are valued by someone else — in this case, God. (Imagine telling a child: "You are not inherently lovable. I love you only because I love your father, and it is my duty to love anything he loves.")


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lessons From Fascist Germany And Communist Russia

Source: Deviant Art 
To me, one of the greatest lessons from fascist Germany and communist Russia is that any system that allocates absolute power to an individual is ultimately doomed for failure and large scale atrocities. There must be a system of checks and balances in place to prevent supreme rule. Any time an individual, small group, church, or government has absolute power, trouble will ensue. It is the system of totalitarianism and the inability for a free press and free speech that is problematic.

Monday, August 3, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 2 Greeks Bearing Gifts)

All throughout the preface and the first chapter Feser made numerous extremely bold claims that he promises to back up in the later chapters. By chapter two, entitled Greeks Bearing Gifts, we start seeing some of those justifications come to light. The chapter starts out on a crash course through ancient Greek philosophy leading up to Plato and then Aristotle. I won't summarize Feser's teaching unless I think it is significant for his objective, which is to show that "a certain kind of" religion and god are not only reasonable to believe in, but that it's logically impossible that naturalism is true.

Plato and Aristotle are considered to be two of the greatest philosophers of all time, and I would largely agree. That's not to say that I agree with all of their ideas, especially their metaphysical ones, it's just to recognize the fact that they were both deeply analytic thinkers and widely influential. For example, I regard the Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato's Euthyphro, as one of the greatest pieces of moral insight. But, I digress. For Feser, he focuses first on Plato's Theory of Forms, which is one of the things I think Plato got wrong.

Take the triangle. Any triangle physically drawn or created will in some way be imperfect, if only by a tiny amount. They will all lack features that perfectly exemplify a triangle - that is, they will have features not part of a triangle's essence or nature. Plato argues from this that the essence or nature of triangularity is not material or known through our senses, and when we exemplify triangles physically they go in and out of existence, but its essence stays the same. The essential features of triangularity are therefore according to Plato, universal, and not particular, immaterial, and not material, and known through the intellect and not through the senses.

Feser is making the case for Platonic realism, and makes arguments against nominalism, and conceptualism. Platonic realism is the view that universals (like triangles, squares, and other geometric patterns) and abstract objects (like numbers) exist independently of minds or physical space and time. Nominalism is the view that these objects do not exist, and conceptualism is the view that these objects exist, but only as concepts in our minds. Feser presents several arguments to try and show that realism is true and that nominalism and conceptualism are false. The reason why he's trying to do so starts becoming clear on page 36 where he writes:

A triangle is a triangle only because it participates in the Form of Trianglarity; a squirrel is a squirrel only because it participates in the Form of Squirrel; and so forth. By the same token, something is going to count as a better triangle the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates triangularity, and a squirrel would be a better squirrel the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates the Form of Squirrel.

This is all leading up to the natural law theory of ethics that many Catholics, like Feser, think forms the basis of our morality. Feser goes on:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Do Christians Realize That Jesus Never Pardoned Any Woman Accused Of Adultery?

I've blogged about this before, but I thought I'd add a quote from Bart Ehrman about how the story of Jesus letting the adulterer go free (which is one of the most famous stories in the New Testament), is a well known interpolation. From Misquoting Jesus:

The story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery is arguably the best-known story about Jesus in the Bible; it certainly has always been a favorite in Hollywood versions of his life. It even makes it into Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, although that movie focuses only on Jesus's last hours (the story is treated in one of the rare flashbacks). Despite its popularity, the account is found in only one passage of the New Testament, in John 7:53-8:12, and it appears not to have been original even there.


Despite the brilliance of the story, its captivating quality, and its inherent intrigue, there is one other enormous problem that it poses. As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John. In fact, it was not originally part of any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes.

How do we know this? In fact, scholars who work on the manuscript tradition have no doubts about this particular case. Later in this book we will be examining in greater depth the kinds of evidence that scholars adduce for making judgments of this sort. Here I can simply point out a few basic facts that have proved convincing to nearly all scholars of every persuasion: the story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John; 18 its writing style is very different from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. The conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel. (pp. 63-65)

The search feature on my blog sucks, and the previous post about this interpolation never comes up, so I'm hoping this post fixes that.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Boston, Seattle and San Francisco Have Relatively Few Christians

As reported by Pew.

Boston, Seattle and San Francisco Have Relatively Few Christians

Interesting. I can see why San Francisco's low, but I didn't really expect Boston to be so low because I associate it so strongly with Catholicism. But I guess its low rate of Christianity is because Catholicism is dropping so fast and it historically made up such a large percent of the population.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What Would I Do With 100 Million Dollars?

This should be an interesting post.

My coworkers play the lottery and dream of being millionaires, as we all have. I too entertain that fantasy but I never play the lottery. I know the odds of winning are so low that it's not worth playing. But suppose I won 100 million dollars. What would I do with it?

Here's what I'd do.

First, I'd quite my job. I like my job. I like my coworkers. It pays decent and it's relatively low stress, but it's only something I do for the money. If I had 100 million dollars, I'd have no need for it.

Second, I'd give some money to my family. I don't know exactly how much I'd give to each family member, but they'd get enough money to live comfortably for a while. I don't know about distant relatives though. I have some relatives I only see every ten years or so and I'm not sure if I'd give them any money. This would be an open question.

Third, I'd get a really nice apartment in Manhattan. I'm not sure where I'd live. Midtown is nice and full of luxurious apartments, but downtown in Greenwich Village has some beautiful brownstones and is closer to the party scene and the cultural attractions. Either way, I'd have a nice spacious bachelor pad.

Forth, after I settled on a nice apartment, since money wouldn't be an issue, I'd pursue my dream of becoming a philosopher. I'd study all the things I find fascinating: metaphysics, ethics, the philosophy of mind and science, logic, political philosophy. I'd study history, sociology, religion, and politics. I'd take writing classes. I'd study science and various different humanities. I'd study secularism, which is now a thing. Once I got a degree, I'd go back and get more degrees, over and over again. I'd be a perpetual student. As new interests develop, I'd go study them. I'd eventually amass several PhDs. I'd probably go to universities here in New York, like NYU or Columbia, but I'd consider travelling. And I'd write. I'd write books. I'd use my knowledge to lecture and talk and devote myself to activism. Most of what I'd do would be to support the secular community and the progressive politics I hold. I'd become an expert in all the relevant fields. It would be fucking awesome!

I'm Back From Vacation

It was a nice time with the fam' but I'm happy to be back in New York City. I'm such a new yorker that I get homesick very easily. When you grow up in one of the largest and most exciting cities in the world, almost every other city pales in comparison. Portland Oregon is a cool town, but it's a dinky suburb compared to New York City. I do like the fact that it's very liberal and quite atheistic. None of the people that I met there believed in god. They had all either been raised without religion or had given it up by the time they finished college.

Even my 9 year old nephew is a skeptic. He thinks god, religion, and spiritual beliefs are nonsense. He thinks the story of Moses and the Exodus is "stupid." I definitely see a little of me in him. (I was once that 9 year old skeptic debating my devoutly Catholic grandmother on god and evolution.) I told him that if anyone tries to tell him god exists they're making it up, and are most likely motivated by the goal of trying to tell him what to do and using god to justify it. There is no good evidence god exists or that any religion is true and it all comes down to faith claims. I'm not too worried that he's going to become a theist anytime soon. I think that once you realize religion and theism are bullshit, it's hard to go back. On top of that, my sister is not a traditional theist at all.

Anyway, I'm back and will be blogging again, hopefully more frequently rather than less frequently. I have several blog posts pending, including my lengthy review of chapter 2 of Edward Feser's book The Last Superstition. I also recorded a video of me talking to a street preacher who was a former male stripper and claims to be ex-gay. The audio and camera angles aren't perfect but it should be fun to turn it into a blog post. There's much more on the way as well. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On Vacation

Man I love blogging. I'd do it full time if it weren't for work and that pesky thing known as a "personal life." But I will have to take a slight break because I'm on vacation and I only get to see my family once a year. I have several new blog posts pending, including one on how to infer ontology that is part of an ongoing conversation with Luke Breuer, and one about the definition of religion, which will become a handy link whenever I get into the inevitable dispute of its cumbersome definition.

Also, my long awaited review of chapter 2 of Edward Feser's critique of New Atheism, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism is almost done. I've already reviewed the preface and chapter 1, but chapter 2 took me a lot longer than expected because it's really heavy on philosophy and my goal is not just to review and critique Feser's book, but to summarize it so that readers will understand the metaphysics upholding his religious views. That means that my reviews will be lengthy, but they will serve as online resources for those who want to learn and hear a criticism of his book which few people have done before. I'm putting the finishing touches on it now and hopefully this will be done by the end of the month. Chapter 3's review is almost done too and should follow relatively shortly afterwards.

Then I have other topics potentially in the queue, including a critique of David Wood's reasons for being a Christian, which I think are really bad, a post about indoctrination and whether or not all teaching of children amounts to some form of indoctrination, a post about what I'd do with $100 million dollars, and maybe a post about whether "Only God can provide an adequate rational foundation for morality and unalienable human rights," as one theist tried to claim to me recently.

Also, I'm open to suggestions. If there are any topics that you'd like me to write about, I'd be open to consider them, depending on the topic and how much research it will involve. So, if you'd like, leave suggestions in the comment box.


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